JUNE CAPITOL UPDATE
Dear Fellow Texan--
The 80th Legislature adjourned on Monday, May 28, capping a 140-day lawmaking session that I would describe as a productive session for Senate District 24.
It was a very dynamic and positive session for all Texans, but particularly for Senate District 24. The Legislature addressed the Trans-Texas Corridor, reformed the Texas Youth Commission and passed a budget that adequately provides for higher education, children's health care, and property owners.
You may recall, last year the Legislature reduced school property tax rates for most homeowners by one-third over two years. This year the Legislature provided the additional $14 billion needed to implement the second step in the property tax cuts. The measure also directs the Comptroller to set aside between $2 billion and $3 billion of the state's surplus for property tax relief in future years.
Because of the growth in our state's economy, we were able to continue the promise of lower local property taxes. The budget we passed provides additional property tax relief that we committed to last June.
This month I want to give you an idea of what we did during session, particularly for Senate District 24.
Other major bills passed by the Legislature include:
- House Bill 1 -- includes $61 billion for public and higher education (up 7 percent); $51.1 billion for health care and welfare (up 5 percent); $752 million for natural resource programs including parks and wildlife (up 33 percent); and $108 million for border security initiatives.
- Teacher retirement - gives 13th month check in September 2007 and provides for actuarial soundness (with passage of SB 1846);
- Provides a 35% increase in student financial aid for higher education;
- Provides $54,000,000 for courthouse preservation program (contingent on passage of constitutional amendment in November);
- Provides $240 million to restore and increase provider rates (Ambulance, Dental, Home Health, Foster Care, Physicians, PCCM, and Vendor Drug Dispensing);
- Provides $344 million to reduce Health and Human Service Commission waiting lists;
- Provides $82 million for crisis mental health services to increase diversion of patients and reduce the burden on counties for transportation costs;
- The budget provides for an approximately $415 across-the-board teacher pay raise and an additional $400 million for incentive pay;
- Provides $274 million for homeland and border security items;
- Increases Legislative oversight of TXDOT budget by requiring additional reporting and LBB approval;
- Provides $170 million for System Benefit Fund discounts for five months;
- Senate Bill 782 -- a comprehensive transportation bill that address the Trans-Texas Corridor. The bill creates a moratorium on new privately developed toll roads and puts limits on the contracts used in private-public road building.
- House Bill 1098 -- a bill rescinding Gov. Perry's mandate to vaccinate young girls against the HPV virus.
- House Bill 109 -- fully restores the Children's Health Insurance Program. This bill ensures that over 100,000 more eligible children are covered while still protecting taxpayers.
- Senate Bill 1031 -- the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) high school exit exams will be replaced with end-of-course tests in 9th through 12th grades.
Now let me share with you some of the work we did for Senate District 24:
Kerrville - HB 654
- For Kerrville, we were able to create a pilot project which will allow the Hill Country MHMR Center to develop and operate a 16-bed crisis stabilization unit on the Kerrville State Hospital grounds. This treatment program is designed to reduce acute symptoms of mental illness and prevent admission to the state hospital.
Brownwood - HB 1930
- House Bill 1930, passed for the Brown County attorney's office, will allow them to accept gifts or grants from individuals, associations, trusts, governmental entities or charitable organizations for the purpose of furthering their operations.
This will ermit donors or organizations to actually give funds or grants that could go toward paying for more items such as video cameras in the intoxication intake room or other expensive equipment that is needed.
Abilene and Goldthwaite - SB 3
Killeen - HB 317 & HB 589
- Also passed this session was Senate Bill 3, the omnibus water bill. Included in SB 3 were provisions designating Cedar Ridge, in Abilene, as a unique reservoir site. In addition the bill also designates the Goldthwaite channel dam reservoir, to be located on the Colorado River west of the city of Goldthwaite.
I know the water district in Abilene, as well as both cities are dedicated to making more water available so that they may continue to meet the needs of a growing population. Everyone in West Texas understands that the one common thread that holds communities together is an adequate and reliable water source. Having a new reservoir will ensure the water supply for Abilene and Goldthwaite for future generations.
- This session we took a major step forward when it comes to higher education in Killeen. HB 317 allows the Texas A&M System to issue $2.2 million in tuition revenue bonds for infrastructure and improvements at the future Texas A&M Central Texas campus in Killeen. HB 589 moves the system center one step closer to becoming a stand-alone institution.
I am proud to have played a small part in helping A&M -- Central Texas becomes a reality. It has been a long process to get to this point. The 80th Legislature has given us the tools we need to reach stand-alone status. Along with the additional special item funding and the authorization to construct a building, our community can be proud of the work we've done to provide a world-class education to the residents of Central Texas.
Temple (and other cities) - SB 1536
- For Temple we passed Senate Bill 1536 which creates an innovative way for cities to move forward with transportation projects knowing that the costs will be repaid over time.
This new method of financing will allow cities, including Temple, to move forward with much needed transportation projects without having to wait for TXDOT funding.
- We were also successful in funding $29 million for the A&M College of Medicine expansion in College Station, Temple, and Round Rock. The College of Medicine was also budgeted $4 million to provide for leasing facilities for education space in Temple. I'm excited to see how the expansion of the medical school here in Temple impacts every segment of our economy and the growth we are seeing in the bioscience industry.
Stephenville - HB 462 & SB 714
- House Bill 462, passed for the City of Stephenville, removes the exemption for colleges and universities from paying storm water drainage fees.
In small communities this prior exemption for colleges had placed an undue hardship on citizens having to fund water drainage projects. These fees can go a long way in helping a community fund water projects that are needed.
- Also, last interim the Senate Natural Resources Committee studied the impact of current permitting exemptions for oil and gas wells. Senate Bill 714 allows a groundwater district to adopt rules requiring oil and gas wells to report their groundwater withdrawals.
This will give the districts the tools they need to adequately manage the amount of available groundwater. It is important that all districts know how much water is being used for planning purposes.
Burnet - SB 1533
- Also this session, the House and Senate approved legislation that will transfer state land to Burnet County so the county can build a new prison.
This legislation will save the taxpayers of Burnet County about $1 million in land costs. In addition, the new jail will be large enough to also save the county from having to rent beds and transfer prisoners to other facilities in the state.
Brady (and others) - HB 556
- I was also proud to play a small part in making changes to the electronic voting booth requirements previously put in place after the Presidential recount of 2000. HB 556 does several things. First it changes the requirements for using electronic voting booth's in elections and sets up a tiered system based on population.
We heard from individuals throughout last year that these requirements were to onerous for smaller cities and counties; and in some cases, so burdensome they were discouraging people from running for office. This new system will help reduce the burden on small counties and cities while maintaining the ability of disabled Texans to cast their secret ballot.
In addition, HB 556 also gives the Secretary of State the ability to reimburse counties for the cost of the May 12th constitutional amendment election.
Llano - HB 890 & SB 213
- In Llano, we have given the county the ability to create an irrevocable trust using the revenue generated from their county school funds. By creating this option, we are giving the county the opportunity to be a better manager of these county school lands and to maximize the return of the investment.
Llano County is apparently one of about five counties that still own their county school lands and want the opportunity to manage those funds to the benefit of both current and future school children in Llano County.
Additionally, Senate Bill 213, also passed for Llano County allows the county to implement a county hotel/motel tax to generate funds to help increase tourism business and revenue in the county.
Junction - HB 1700
- In Junction, Texas Tech University has operated a very successful K-12 outdoor science program called the Outdoor School. HB 1700 allows Texas Tech to develop a curriculum for grades 6-12 outdoor science. This curriculum would be project-based and integrated with the Texas High school projects Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiative.
By developing this curriculum, we can take this successful outdoor science program to other parks in the state and reach even more students than we can today.
Senate District 24 and the Budget
Here is a breakdown of some of the new money SD 24 received in the budget:
- $200,000 -- Small business development center at Texas A&M, Tarleton;
- $2,179,614 -- Tuition revenue bond retirement for Texas A&M, Central Texas;
- $10,000,000 -- Special item support for Texas A&M, Central Texas;
- $10,000,000 -- Special item support for Texas A&M Health Science medical school expansion in College Station & Temple;
- $19,000,000 -- Special item support for Texas A&M Health Science medical school expansion in Temple and Round Rock;
- $4,000,000 -- Special item support to lease building in conjunction with Texas A&M Health Science medical school expansion in Temple;
- $2,000,000 -- Special item support for Scott &White in Temple for obesity research;
The electric consumers of Texas lost a battle this session for better protections against market abuse and high electric rates. I am extremely disappointed that Senate Bill 482 did not pass and become law. This bill would have protected consumers against market abuse, helped lower rates, and encouraged consumer choice of retail electric providers.
At the beginning of this session, I believe everyone agreed changes needed to be made to our electric market to help increase competitive forces. I authored legislation that sought to make changes to our deregulated market. With the demise of Senate Bill 482, we failed to make the appropriate corrections when it comes to competition in the electricity market.
The bill included several provisions that would have protected our most vulnerable citizens from high electric rates. The bill prohibited the disconnection of elderly and other low-income customers, as well as prohibited electric providers from charging deposits to elderly low-income customers. It also expanded the customers eligible for discounts under the System Benefit Fund.
SB 482 provided remedies that the Public Utility Commission (PUC) could implement if a company was found to have abused the market, including fines of $1 million per day, per violation. Additionally, the bill allowed the PUC to review and approve any transaction involving the sale or merger of a regulated transmission company. These provisions would have ensured that a company could not manipulate the market to its benefit and to the detriment of electric consumers.
It is unfortunate that the large electric companies and a few disenchanted House members were blinded by the profits from high electricity rates and speaker politics and were successful in killing this consumer-friendly legislation.
Consumers of this state deserve to be treated fairly and Senate Bill 482 would have made changes to our deregulated market to make that happen.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance with a state agency or wish to voice an opinion on any matter before the Texas Legislature. I always appreciate hearing from you.
I hope to see you soon.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER
Austin Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 475-3732
Marble Falls District Office
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
FAX: (830) 693-9603
Abilene District Office
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
FAX: (325) 676-8060
Belton District Office
1920 North Main Street
Belton, Texas 76513
FAX: (254) 939-7611